Monday, September 28, 2009

Week 5: Stars and Wonders

I didn't take any photos this week, unfortunately, to document some of the things we did in Week 5. I can say that I think I learned as much as the kids did! Our topics of the week included: Jesus is the Light of the World; Stars and Constellations; Mayflower and the Pilgrims, and the usual assortment of math, spelling, Classical Writing Primer, First Language Lessons, Latin, Mandarin, and reading time. From our study of the Pilgrims, we created our own version of an oiled window to mimic what the Pilgrims did in their own log houses, and we planted two small pots of corn kernels; we added bits of raw fish to one pot just like Squanto instructed the Pilgrims to do, and over the next few days and weeks the kids will watch to see what happens. History and science all rolled into one!

One of my fellow MFW Adventures moms on my Yahoo Groups list suggested the following site as a way to visualize the relative size of the Earth, the sun, and the largest star we can see without a telescope (Betelgeuse). Here is one of the photos from the site which is a great way to see the Earth and the sun in relation to one another.

We made constellation viewers out of Pringles cans and learned a few things I never knew, such as the fact that the Big Dipper is part of Ursa Major (Great Bear), and that the two end stars of the Big Dipper point straight towards the North Star, which is the last star on the end of the Little Dipper. Perhaps this is common knowledge to most folks, but it was completely new to me! (OK, true confessions, it shouldn't be new to me--I took Astronomy 101 in college! But, I cannot remember learning any of these basic facts and if I did, they never went into my long-term memory.) This is the part of homeschooling I enjoy--the chance to learn alongside the kids, and to be inspired alongside them with new ideas and concepts.

(Of course, sometimes it feels like the kids aren't nearly as excited as I am about the things we are learning! Not sure what I can do about that except trust that if they see that I am excited about learning new things, over time they will similarly embrace and adopt a similar attitude. That's the hope, anyway!)

Lastly, I mentioned last post or so about my unexpected struggles having Ron in preschool. The other thing that resulted when he started going back to school was that although I had one less child at home, 2 year old Dobby would become more fussy and needy because he wouldn't have another brother to play with or be around when I was working with Harry. That plus the fact that Ron's class is focusing tasks such as helping the kids learn to recognize their own name and learning the alphabet, when I could be using that time at home with him to help him continue developing his reading, math and writing skills, made the decision easy: we have withdrawn Ron from his Tuesday/Thursday preschool class. He'll still go once a week on Fridays to his "Learning Through Literature" class while Harry is at his weekly co-op, so he'll still have a chance to experience preschool life, but this seems the best of all options and also saves us some money (to help pay for the homeschooling expenses!) Tomorrow is his last day in his Tuesday/Thursday class, and he seems not one bit sad about that, thankfully!

We have begun week 6, and will post on that next week. New Netherland and bread!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Light Week and Week Four

Our aforementioned "light week" ended up being timed quite well, with our DS4 (Ron) going back to preschool that week. I thought things might be easier with one less child around to manage homeschooling, but it actually ended up being the opposite! Even with my DH taking Ron to school in the morning, and even though the school is close by, by the time I put my other two DSs in the car, arrived at the school, took everyone out, waited for the teacher report, waited for Ron to come out, walked back to the car, got everyone in, and came back home, that was 30 minutes of lost schooling time! So that added a wrinkle to our schedule twice a week that I'm still trying to negotiate.

Anyway, our schooling time during the "light week" was basically reviewing and continuing math facts (working on adding and subtracting within 20) and doing our Classical Writing Primer book. We also did a fun project that I found out about through my fellow MFW Adventurers (hooray for Yahoo Groups!), a mini-model of the Jamestown fort. It's amazing what you can find on the Internet! The model was a little time-intensive for me in terms of doing the prep work and assembly, but Harry (DS7) colored all the pieces and participated where he could, and the result was a nice three-dimensional representation of Jamestown that surpassed any pictures we saw in books (photo below).

This week was our Week 4. It felt like a helter-skelter week in some ways, with dealing with the new schedule of losing a half-hour on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and also with a doctor's appointment thrown in one morning. Homeschooling allows flexibility on one hand, but for someone like me who likes sticking to the schedule, it's not easy to manage the disruptions. We moved on from Jamestown and focused on the Native Americans this week, and here I began to experience one of the downsides of homeschooling, which is when you feel a certain lack of knowledge in an area that you are supposed to be teaching. We used a book about Native Americans to provide the main source of information, but even after reading through that book a couple of times, there's very little that I retained about all the different tribes we covered! But I know at this age, it's not necessarily that Harry should remember all the details, and I also know that the additional books he reads to supplement can often have even more impact (such as Naya Nuki, the amazing story of an 11-year-old Shoshoni girl who was captured by a rival Indian tribe and taken 1,000 miles away but somehow found her way back home. I stayed up late one night myself reading this book because I couldn't put it down!) It also goes to show how living history books can have such an impact on kids (and adults!), because who doesn't love a good story? Harry won't remember where the Iroquois lived, but I'm sure he will remember the story of Squanto for quite a while! And he may not remember all the different kinds of housing structures the Native Americans built, but he may remember the two simple representations we made, namely wigwams and tepees, pictured here with the aforementioned Jamestown model. All this is to say that even if I feel somewhat insecure about subjects where I'm less competent, I still think despite my inadequacies he will manage to learn a few things in those very areas!

We also did a couple of fun but very simple activities related to our introduction to stars. Right before bedtime one evening, I took Harry and Ron outside to look at the stars, and their excitement at seeing them was striking to me. I realized how few times they've actually been up late enough to see stars, how much of the universe we live in is still so new to them, and how fun it is to see something that I take for granted through their young eyes. The second activity I did with Harry on Friday afternoon was to illustrate how far away the sun is from the earth. We started on a section of sidewalk and called that "Earth", then walked two seconds to reach "the moon", and then took an 8-minute walk to reach "the sun". He kept wondering, "How long until we reach the sun?" and so I think the exercise did help him to better understand how far the sun is away from the Earth. We talked about how close the sun might seem due to the strength of the its light and heat, but that it is actually 93 million miles away!

Lastly, this week was Harry's second week at his homeschooling co-op. He played badminton and drew a lovely representation of a parrot in his art class, something much better than anything I have ever tried to draw! He was so proud to show it to me and I was really impressed with what he'd done, no matter how much his teacher had helped him! I'm sure he contributed enough to feel as though it was his creation, and I felt quite thankful that he was a part of a co-op that could give him experiences I would not be able to create for him here at home. For our first year of homeschooling thus far, we have really been blessed to live where we do and in a time when homeschooling curriculum options and support systems are so plentiful. Even though not many of my own friends homeschool, I have felt far from alone on this journey and every day that goes by (at least thus far!) I've been glad that we took this leap of faith. Not that I don't have my share of questions; I still often wonder, "Are we doing enough? Are we doing too much? What are we missing? What will the long term impact be on Jason?" But, I remind myself that we are on this journey at the Lord's leading and He will be the one who orchestrates the results. I'll just continue to try to be faithful to my part...and so the journey continues.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Another homeschooling benefit--you get to see Tiger Woods!

So just to cement the idea that my family is golf-crazy...I just needed to post some photos from our special outing today to the BMW Championship which is being held at a golf course in the Chicagoland area this week. As I mentioned last post, this week is a "light week", so it was no problem for us to take off in the middle of the week to do something like this! (I love the flexibility of homeschooling!)

Today was the last practice round of the tournament, and I thought our chance of seeing Tiger Woods would be higher if we went in the morning as he typically plays his practice rounds early versus late. I wasn't sure I could handle all three boys by myself, especially our youngest, who is prone to screaming when he doesn't get his way (and a screaming toddler is not exactly a welcome addition on a golf course!) But I decided, we'll give it a try, and the worst case scenario is that we don't see anything and we come back home early. I prepped the older boys accordingly, so that their expectations would remain in check, but all they wanted to do was to see Tiger despite everything I said.

We arrived at Cog Hill golf course a little after 9 a.m., and the parking lot was already full! We had to park at the far end of the lot and started the long trek to the tournament site, a good 200 yards away. I was able to bring in my backpack due to it being full of kid necessities (water cups, diaper changing supplies, etc.) and we entered the gates, greeted by a huge sign featuring Woods, Camilo Villegas, and Vijay Singh. We were wanting to find Tiger Woods immediately, but then we noticed a small crowd gathering around the 10th green. We waited with the crowd and discovered that none other than Spanish golfing star Sergio Garcia was about to come to the 10th tee and hit.

Right after he teed off, he came right over to the boys and offered to sign autographs. I had luckily grabbed some Sharpies and some Post-It Note pads right before I left the house, and had armed the boys with them while they were waiting for Sergio to hit. They came in handy!

Then we were off to find Tiger. I was hoping against hope that the boys would be able to just get a quick glimpse of him somehow, but also trying to be realistic that it might not happen. We kept asking course marshals along the way, "Where is Tiger" Some didn't know, but then one person with a walkie-talkie asked around for us and told us to head for the 14th green. I put our 4 year old in the double stroller along with our toddler, and then my 7 year old and I ran as fast as we could through the course to reach the 14th green. Soon, we were at an intersection of the course where you could see parts of the 14th-17th holes, and it was here we discovered the playing group just ahead of Tiger's, featuring Korean golfer Y.E. Yang, the recent Tiger-defeater and winner of the 2009 PGA Championship. He also stopped to sign autographs for the boys, which we appreciated. Tiger's group came next, and the boys were able to get wonderful views of Tiger from pretty close range. He did not, unfortunately, stop to sign autographs, but we did get some good photos of him
passing by.

We saw a number of other pros, but our toddler was at the end of his small little rope so we headed home after about two hours on the course. But we were able to create many amazing memories in that short span of time and I'm pretty sure this will become an annual tradition for us! Again, this is something that homeschooling makes easier to do, and I'm glad we had the flexibility and freedom to go and hang out with Tiger and the other PGA tour players for a morning!

And as an aside, I let my 7 yr. old son watch Obama's speech to children on Tuesday morning. One thing he said was, "Obama was homeschooled!" in reference to Obama's description of the time when he lived in Indonesia and his mom woke him up at 4:30 every morning to do schoolwork with him because they couldn't afford the local school for English speakers. Whatever your political persuasion, if the sitting president of the U.S. can speak positively about the educational experience that he had at home with his mother, that can only help us all in our own efforts with our kids!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Week 3, Still Enjoying It!

It is unbelievable how fast the time is flying. We've finished our third week of homeschooling; since we only officially school four days a week, we're done by Thursday afternoon. Fridays will typically be a combination of a co-op morning with other homeschooling kids, speech therapy at our local elementary school in the afternoon, and a more relaxed schedule overall (translation: work time for me, hopefully!); this Friday, however, DH will take the older boys to their current favorite place, a local par 3 golf course. Our co-op starts tomorrow but with the weather so beautiful here right now, and with the beginning of preschool next week for our 4-year-old, this Friday is the only day for the foreseeable future for the three of them to do this. I love that we have the freedom and flexibility to be able to take off and do something fun like this! One of the wonderful blessings of homeschooling.

This week, we studied a variety of topics...Jesus, Jamestown, Pocahontas, the Science of Air...we started Latin, which was lovely and fun and with Prima Latina, not at all intimidating; even Ron (DS 4) now says "Oremus!" before we say grace or do our bedtime prayers. ("Oremus" = Let us pray.) Our Bible/history/geography/science curriculum, Adventures from My Father's World, incorporates craft activities each week, but not so many that I'm overwhelmed by them. Today, the boys made Jesus window posters, which turned out pretty well overall.

We've been working through Singapore Math 1A, some of which is review and some of which is brand new, switching from our summer use of Math-U-See. MUS was great at helping solidify basic math addition facts up to 20, but I was really curious about Singapore Math after having read so many great things about it, so I decided not to complete MUS Alpha right at the point where we would have finished subtraction, because I didn't want to have to change to a different way of thinking about subtraction when we switched to Singapore. So far, I like Singapore Math; it requires preparation on my part to be able to understand their conceptual method before I can present it to Harry, and it's totally different from how I learned math, but I think it's definitely better than how I learned it and for now we'll keep sticking with it. We are definitely beefing up math compared with Harry's experience in school last year; we do drills 2-3 times/week, and we bought a Leapster for both the older boys to play with as a way to solidify their math facts, so Harry likes to use the Jedi Math program there as well. In my mind, you can't do too much math!

For this first year of homeschooling, I have scheduled in frequent "light weeks", and next week is one of those. We'll do some math and some Classical Writing Primer, perhaps, but otherwise we'll just try to reinforce things we've talked about these past few weeks through fun activities like lapbooks, something I'm eager to start trying out over here. Stay tuned! =)